C.J. Sansom continues with his great set of Tudor era historical mysteries, tapping into some of the controversies of the time to spin intricate tales sure to keep the reader enthralled. Matthew Shardlake has taken on quite a complicated case when asked to defend a young man who has been locked away in a mental facility. His crime, excessive praying and zealousness, leaves many wondering what is to be done. At a time when religious fervour is punishable by death when not in line with the Church of England, Shardlake must get to the bottom of this before things get out of hand. However, there are other issues, particularly when a friend is found murdered. As is often the case, Shardlake cannot steer clear of a mystery, though the King’s Coroner is quick to shut down the investigation. Shardlake is determined to get answers when asked by his friend’s widow. When Shardlake is approached by Archbishop Cranmer, he discovers that there may be more to the murder than meets the eye. It would seem that there are more murders with similar attributes, but those at the highest levels of Court do not want it known publicly. Shardlake examines what little evidence and documentation he can find, only to discover that the killer seems to be following a portion of the Book of Revelation, where death and destruction is rampant. Even with a list of the forms of murder, the interpretation is quite significant, not to mention the choice of victims. It would seem someone is trying to get rid of radical reformers, choosing brutal killings to make their point. When Shardlake and a few others are targeted by someone wanting the investigation stopped, it would seem he is on the right path. While all this is going on, Shardlake cannot forget his client, whose mental state remains as fragile as ever. Something must be done to quell the dramatic reaction of many in England, with ongoing questions at Court at what Henry VIII will do in his search for a new—sixth—wife. This may be one case that Matthew Shardlake wished he had left well alone. Brilliant in its delivery, C.J. Sansom taps into both the era and its intricate scandals to create a mystery like no other. Those who have loved the series to date will surely want to add this to their collection.
This is a great series for those who love their mysteries steeped in history and controversies of another era. C.J. Sansom does well to educate while entertaining the reader in a nuance-filled narrative. The story digs deeper than most of the Tudor history with which I am familiar, usually Henry VIII chasing a new wife or his offspring—Elizabeth—seeking to rule in ways never thought of before. It looks to the religious reformation within England and how powerful entities shaped the development of England and its Church at a time when things were still fairly new and shaky. Sansom continues to offer a little more of the backstory related to Matthew Shardlake. Gritty in his way of thinking, Shardlake faces much retaliation as he defends a religious zealot and comes to terms with his own beliefs in the face of a killer who wants to rid the country of non-traditional believers. The thread of religious dedication is an interesting sub-plot that Sansom has added to create more flavour to the Shardlake character. Shardlake remains a keen legal mind and wonderful investigator, working alongside his assistant, Barak. With a few characters from the history books, Sansom injects what many will already know about the heavy hitters of the era, but also finds time to shape new and unknown people to push the story forward. These characters serve various purposes and help to offer a more ‘down to earth’ approach to the story, with a topic that is anything but peaceful. Sansom has a wonderful way of weaving his characters into a glorious tapestry and will not disappoint. The novel is well-paced and offers more Tudor history as England comes into its own from a religious perspective. The novel is by no means out of the realm of any reader, though its topic and analysis can sometimes give it a ‘deeper’ and more ‘intense’ feel, alongside the long and intricate chapters that may be red flags for some readers. The patient reader may enjoy peeling back the layers of history required to digest the larger plot. I am eager that I gave the series another chance and want to get to the core of the Sansom reading experience.
Kudos, Mr. Sansom, for keeping me curious and wanting to know more. There may be many who write about Tudor times, but your mysteries offer a wonderfully unique angle.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons